Journalism in the service of society

Udom Inoyo charts new pathway for Akwa Ibom lawyers

“I agree with Inoyo that our Robbin Hood politics – stealing from the government to share to the poor – is the most destructive component of our society. It breeds laziness, indolence, lack of imagination, poverty and cultism.”

IN a lecture titled, Akwa Ibom: The Legal Profession and Emerging Global Economy, Mr Udom Inoyo, and former Executive Vice President of ExxonMobol, essentially examines the various business opportunities available to Akwa Ibom lawyers in the new economic environment that will soon emerge in the state. It was delivered today, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. He set off on the premise that the emerging economic trends in the state, which, according to him, have already started manifesting in steady and sustainable steps would consolidate in the not-too-distant future. He asserted that lawyers can only play in the emerging Akwa Ibom economy by fulfilling a few conditions: they should deliberately alter the current trajectory, be determined to rework their disposition towards things, must see the opportunities and embrace them, and by so doing, avoid Helen Keller’s characterization that “the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”

But what will the emerging economy of our state look like when fully formed? Inoyo explains, first by laying out a global context.  He notes that the economy of the 21st Century has already been defined, largely by technological advancement and only those who adapt quickly to this reality will have a place on the table. This is even more, he reasons, given the adjustments following the COVID-19 pandemic. Many sectors are already experiencing disruptions on account of new technology. For example, the oil and gas sector in which the lecturer spent 39 years, rising to the top position of executive vice chairman, is now impacted by big data and analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and edge computing, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, robotics and drones, 5G networks, and collaboration tools. This, therefore, means that in a country like Nigeria, with a huge population, largely youths, but with limited technological advancement, we must buckle up, Inoyo argues. We need to adjust to the new global trends across all sectors, failing which we would be left behind. Alvin Toffler, an American businessman, was very clear on this when he opined that ”the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. The world will not wait for us.

For Akwa Ibom emerging economic scenario, Inoyo stated that as a proud Akwa Ibom son, and an accomplished one at that, he is ‘‘appreciative of the on-going transformation from a predominantly subsistent agro/artisanal state towards a semi-industrial economy with the ambition of becoming industrialised soon. That is if there is no disruption to the existing road-map’’. I agree that with the right leadership that would bring the deep sea port and the fertilizer and ammonia plant and other investments into fruition in the next ten years, Akwa Ibom should be a fairly industrialised state. That is why to me, the man (or woman) that will succeed the incumbent governor of our state should not emerge by chance. He must understand that the state is at the cusp of a new era, and he should grasp how to manage the complexity of this transition.

Inoyo was smart enough to stay off the politics of 2023, but he could not help commending his friend, Governor Udom Emmanuel, for what he believes is an impressive performance. He notes the government’s focus on Infrastructure (including Port development), Tourism and Entertainment (including Aviation), Agro-allied businesses, Information Technology, Education and Health Services, and the promotion of Small, Medium Enterprises (SME’S), etc. because of the significant transformations these would bring to the state, including opportunities for human capital development, which is pivotal for any developed economy. My views on the governor’s scorecard are well known. I will leave that for another day.

The lecturer then mentions something many Akwa Ibom air travelers have all acknowledged, but said little of: Ibom Air is creating a positive identity for our people; and that we should take pride in our culture and language; and this should not be taken for granted. ‘‘Nothing gives me greater joy flying Ibom Air, especially on the Lagos and Abuja route, than the announcement-‘Ukang Nyin, ette ye eka nyin, etok-etok ye akamba, imi di wuo ndion’. It sends a powerful message about the state and its people, he says, describing it as a silent revolution. The applause in the auditorium was deafening .

In reminding the audience that Akwa Ibom State is blessed and its potentials are huge: from its position as a coastal state of the Niger Delta, the fertile rain forest, enviable aquatic splendour, preponderant and largely untapped mineral resources, fortunes of the 13 per cent derivation fund from crude oil production, and most importantly, some of the finest minds who can and are holding their own amongst peers anywhere in the world, the erudite lecturer notes that ‘‘these huge blessings must be properly harnessed for the benefit of everyone’’.  We must therefore be clear as to what we want as a people and come together to work for the general good, he reasons. He enjoins us to always remember that “to the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favourable wind.” – Seneca.

By now the audience was already held spellbound as they listened to Inoyo as he slashes the air with his right hand to make his point. Inoyo wonders why businesses in Nigeria don’t last long. He mentions The 100 Club programme on CNN which chronicles the life of businesses that have been around for a century or longer.  ‘‘I enjoy watching this program because it reinforces a commonsense approach to personal and organisational success, irrespective of geographical location or race. These are grounded on hard work, diligence, the ability to change and adapt to contemporary realities, and of course, integrity. Unfortunately in our society today, these tenets are unappreciated. It is almost as if doing that which is right is an aberration; and attracting condemnation, as most people now adopt a short-cut approach to success, including, the celebration of various slants of ‘Robbin-hood,’ ‘Pablo Escobar’, or ‘Onno owo nkpo’. It is almost as if there is a truism in the statement that corruption runs Nigeria’’.

I agree with Inoyo that our Robbin Hood politics – stealing from the government to share to the poor – is the most destructive component of our society. It breeds laziness, indolence, lack of imagination, poverty and cultism. Inoyo wonders if any hardworking lawyer would share his hard earned income at to the people at plaza. ‘‘So, next time someone throws bundles of cash to the people at plaza, we should ask how the money was earned’’. It provoked both laughter and deep reflection in the hall.

I have known Inoyo for up to 30 years, but, I must confess that his erudition this morning really amazed me. He was self assured in poise, smooth in elocution and elevated in his presentation. A good leader must have the courage to interrogate the status quo. Our keynote speaker did not disappoint us in this area. He said: ‘‘take the economy for example. Do we ask questions about why almost all businesses in our society fail? Has anyone been concerned about why huge amounts of public funds would be committed to a venture and go to waste? How many people recall that there was thriving marine transportation between Calabar and Oron in the 1970s, a distance of about 21 kilometres? Such services are littered all over Europe and most have been operating for decades What happened to our Qua Steel company, including the Federal Government Aluminum smelter company of Nigeria (ALSCON), the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku-Iboku, Qua River Hotel, Eket, Biscuit factory, and Sunshine battery in Ikot Ekpene, Quality Ceramics, Itu, Palmil industries, Abak, Ebughu Fishing terminal, Mbo, etc. Can you imagine where the state’s economy would be today if all these businesses were thriving? Is it not ironic that another company, Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), which started its operations in this state, just a little over 50 years ago, is still doing well? Or do you think that MPN is doing well because of the expatriate workers? The last time I checked, about 94% of its workers are Nigerians, including the many young talented ones that are manning various offshore platforms worth multi-million dollars. Over a quarter of these employees are also from this state. So, why are they running these complex operations successfully? It comes back to doing things the proper way, based on common tenets of hard work, diligence and integrity, otherwise known as global best practice. Inoyo asserts that unless we go back to these time-tested principles, we will not have a growing economy and Akwa Ibom State will not be an investor’s destination as we all desire.

To play in the upcoming big league, Inoyo advises the lawyers to begin the process of retooling and re-skilling for the opportunities that are nowhere and those that lie ahead; expand their knowledge to embrace knowledge that are looked-for by a modern economy.

To illustrate his point, he asks the lawyers to take a critical look at the oil industry which he identifies as probably the most regulated anywhere in the world. These regulations, he notes, come with opportunities for lawyers. For example, lawyers are needed to advise on commercial transactions as well as craft Procurement contracts to avoid disputes down the road. Lawyers are also required to interpret complex technical laws and regulations and apply them in many technical areas of the business, such as Drilling, Operations, Safety, Projects, etc.). Lawyers are also required in various aspects of Relationship Management: that is, company’s Interaction with Operational partners like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation-NNPC (which are governed by agreements), Regulators like Department of Petroleum Resources-DPR, National Content Development Management Board-NCDMB, and other government agencies governed by various statutes. Internally, lawyers must give legal opinions on corporate governance issues, application of anti-corruption laws, including those of other jurisdictions such as the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or the UK’s Anti-Bribery Act, as they affect operations in Nigeria and engagement with non-governmental actors-Human and Environmental Right groups.

Lawyers are also needed to interpret the rights of employees under Employment contracts, Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Unions and Labour laws. They also interface on consequences of workplace injury or accident, discrimination and harassment cases, disciplinary actions, and separation for cause. There are also opportunities as Arbitrators.  He also notes that the federal government-owned fertilizer and ammonia plant coming to the state will also provide business opportunities for lawyers.

To help the lawyers prepare for the future, Inoyo announced to the delight of the audience that he has arranged some capacity-building programmes for them to be facilitated by his some of his friends in some areas:

 (I) Project Finance: Barrister Aniekan Ukpanah, Managing Partner, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie

(II) Concepts of Arbitration in Construction Contracts-QS (Barrister Ifeanyi Anago/Mr Tony Ndah, Managing Director, Cost-Link Associates

(III) The place of the judiciary in Infrastructure Development: Ms Imeh Okon, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Infrastructure

(IV) Energy Regulation-Dr. Sam Amadi, Former Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Head of Public and International Law department, Baze University, Abuja

(V) Ethics in Legal Practice-Barrister Edo Ukpong, Founding Partner, CLP Legal.

(VI) Aviation Law: Barrister Essien Udom, SAN, Founding Partner, Udom & Udom Law Firm

(VII) Arbitration: Barrister Inam Wilson, Partner, Templars Law Firm

(VIII) Establishing and Running a Legal Practice as a Successful and Sustainable Business: Barrister Ken Etim, Managing Partner, Banwo & Ighodalo Law firm

(IX) Opportunities in the Oil/ Gas and Energy industry: Dr George Akpan, PhD and Professor Lucky Worika, Dean of Law, University of Port Harcourt

(X) Advocacy in Legal Practice-Justice Ifiok Ukanna (Rtd.)

(XI) Analogue to Digital: the making of a 21st-century lawyer in Akwa Ibom state-Basil Udotai Esq., Managing Partner, Technology Advisors LLP.

(XII)Opportunities for lawyers in Sports: Paul Bassey, renowned Sports Journalist, FIFA/CAF Match Commissioner/Instructor on club licensing & SSA TO AKS Governor on Sports, and Mr. Joe Udofia, CEO Vandrezzer Energy and Patron, Vandrezzer  Football Club FC

(XIII)Professional Ethics in Legal Practice (my personal experience): Uko Udom, SAN, Attorney General, Akwa Ibom State

(XIV)Tax Practice: Unveiling the Opportunities, the Challenges and Approach: Oluseye Arowolo, Partner, Tax & Legal, Deloitte & Touche Nigeria.

However, to make this learning optimal, Inoyo advises the lawyers to scale up to ‘‘begin to explore merging some of the law offices as opposed to the prevalent practice of everyone running his/her little law firm. Remember, there is strength in unity and prospects in diversity’’. He suggests that while personal training is generally good and is encouraged, nothing offers a better opportunity for knowledge transfer than in-chambers experience, noting that major legal briefs will always go to law firms with the needed expertise.

Inoyo advocates some government briefs mandate training of an agreed number of young Akwa Ibom lawyers (both from the State’s Ministry of Justice and the general bar). Call it our version of ‘local content’ but it is really about exposing our younger lawyers, practically, to some of these complex cases that they will otherwise not have had the opportunity to engage in. You never can tell, it may spark an indelible desire in them to explore opportunities in such an area.

Other ideas suggested by the august speaker include engaging a lawyer in the conceptualization of programs/projects and not only when a problem emerges; a deliberate policy to inject our people into the Federal service (and this also includes such agencies as NDDC, NCDMB, etc.), just as I appeal to our young ones to be daring to seek opportunities outside the state.

Concluding, Inoyo asks young lawyers that “the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it”, quoting J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan. ‘‘So, never give in to fear. Most of you know me and if there is a central theme to my story, it is the fact that it is possible to get to the top of a career without compromising one’s spiritual values or soiling one’s hands. That could also be your testimony. So rise and push forward’’.

. Etim is a media consultant. He lives in Abuja.

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